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“Embracing Anger”: Thich Nhat Hanh Calls For Peace In NYC Speech Two Weeks After 9/11

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Image Credit: Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

One of the things we have tried to do here on Democracy Now! is bring the voices of people from New York and around the world who have been victimized by terror but continue to speak for peace. As people in the U.S. struggle with the question of how to respond to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the certainty of U.S. military action in Central Asia, these voices are more important than ever. One of the most important of those is Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. During the U.S. War in Vietnam, he worked tirelessly for reconciliation between North and South Vietnam. He championed a movement known as “engaged Buddhism,” which intertwined traditional meditative practices with active nonviolent civil disobedience against the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Hanh’s Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks resulted in accords between North Vietnam and the United States, but his pacifist efforts did not end with the war. He also helped organize rescue missions well into the 1970s for Vietnamese trying to escape from political oppression. He now lives in exile in a small community in France called Plum Village. Thich Nhat Hanh has written more than 75 books of prose, poetry and prayers and continues to be banned from his native country of Vietnam. He spoke last night at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, where Martin Luther King Jr. first spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War. The subject of his talk was “Embracing Anger.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things we’ve tried to do here on Democracy Now! in Exile is bring the voices of people from New York and around the world who have been victimized by the terror but continue to speak out for peace. As people in the United States struggle with the question of how to respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the certainty of U.S. military action in Central Asia, these voices are more important than ever.

Thich Nhat Hanh spoke last night at Riverside Church. He’s a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. During the War in Vietnam, he worked tirelessly for reconciliation between North and South Vietnam. He championed a movement known as “engaged Buddhism,” which intertwined traditional meditative practices with active nonviolent civil disobedience against the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks resulted in accords between North Vietnam and the United States, but his pacifist efforts did not end with the war. He also helped organize rescue missions well into the 1970s for Vietnamese trying to escape from political oppression. He now lives in exile in a small community in France called Plum Village. Thich Nhat Hanh has written more than 75 books of prose, poetry and prayers and continues to be banned from his native country of Vietnam. He spoke last night at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, where Martin Luther King first spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War. The subject of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talk, that thousands gathered for, was “Embracing Anger.” And today we will bring you the first half of that speech, and we will continue it tomorrow. This is Thich Nhat Hanh.

THICH NHAT HANH: My dear friends, I would like to tell you how I practice when I get angry. During the War in Vietnam, there was a lot of unjustice — injustice. And many thousands friends of mine, many disciples of mine were killed. I got very angry. One time, I learned that the city of Ben Tre, 300,000 people, was bombarded by American aviation just because some guerrillas came to the city and tried to shoot down American aircrafts. They did not succeed, and after that, they went away. And the city was destroyed. And the military man who was responsible for that declared later that he had to destroy the city of Ben Tre in order to save it.

I was very angry. But at that time, I was already a practitioner, silent practitioner. I did not say anything, I did not act, because I knew that acting or saying things while you are angry isn’t wise. It may create a lot of destruction. I went back to myself, recognizing my anger, embracing it, and looked deeply into the nature of my suffering.

In the Buddhist tradition, we have the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. It is exactly with that energy of mindfulness that we can recognize, embrace and transform our anger. Mindfulness is the kind of energy that help us to be aware of what is going on inside of us and around us. And everybody can be mindful. When you drink a cup of tea and if you know that you are drinking a tea, that is mindful drinking. And you breathe in and if you know that you are breathing in and if you focus your attention on your in breath, that is mindfulness of breathing. When you make a step and if you are aware of that you are making a step, that is called mindfulness of walking. And a basic practice in the Zen centers, meditation centers, is the practice of generating the energy of mindfulness every moment of your daily life. And when you are angry, you are aware that you are angry. And because you do have already the energy of mindfulness in you, created by the practice, that is why you have enough of it in order to recognize, embrace, look deeply and understand the nature of our suffering.

I was able to understand the nature of the suffering in Vietnam. I saw that not only Vietnamese suffer, but Americans suffered, as well, during the War in Vietnam. The American young men who were sent to Vietnam to kill and to be killed, they underwent a lot of suffering. And the suffering continues even today — their family, the nation. And so, I could see that the cause of our suffering in Vietnam is not the American soldiers. It is a kind of policy that is not wise. It is a misunderstanding, it is fear, that lie at the foundation of the policy.

And many of us in Vietnam have had — had burned themselves in order to call for a cessation of the destruction. We did not want to inflict pain on other people. We wanted to take the pain on ourself in order to get the message across. But the sound of bombs and mortars was too loud. People in the world, not many of them were capable to hear us. So I decided to go to America and call for a cessation of the violence. That was in 1966. And because of that, I was prevented to go home. And I began my exile since that time, 1966.

Because I was able to see that the real enemy of man is not — the real enemy of man is not man. It is ignorance, discrimination, fear, craving and violence. And that is why I did not have hate vis-à-vis the American people, the American nation. So, I came in order to plead for a kind of looking deeply, so that your government could revise that policy. I remember I met with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and I told him the truth about the suffering. He kept me with him for a long time, and he listened deeply to me, and I was very grateful for his quality of listening. And three months later, when the war was intensified, I heard that he resigned from his post. Hatred and anger was not in my heart. That is why I was listened to by many young people in my country, advocating them to follow the path of reconciliation. And together, we have helped bring about the negotiations for peace in Paris.

I hope my friends here in New York are able to practice the same. I understood, I understand suffering and injustice. And I feel that I understand deeply the suffering of New York, of America. I feel I am a New Yorker. I feel I am an American. We want to be there for you, to plead with you not to act, not to say things when you are not calm. There are ways that we can go back to ourselves and practice so that we rediscover our calmness, our tranquility, our lucidity. There are ways by which we can look deeply to understand the real causes of the suffering. And that understanding will help us to do what needs to be done and not to do what could be harmful to us and to other people. Let us practice mindful breathing for half a minute before we continue.

In Buddhist psychology, we used to speak of consciousness in terms of seed. We have the seed of anger in our consciousness. We have the seed of despair, of fear. But we also have the seed of understanding, wisdom, compassion and forgiveness. If we know how to water the seed of wisdom and compassion in us, that seeds — these seeds will manifest themselves as a powerful source of energy, helping us to perform an act of forgiveness and compassion. It will be able to bring relief right away to our nation and to the world. That is my conviction.

I believe very strongly that the American people have a lot of wisdom and compassion within themselves. I want you to be your best when you begin to act, for the sake of America and for the sake of the world. With calmness, with lucidity, with understanding and compassion, you could turn to the people who have caused a lot of damage and suffering to you and ask them a direct question.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist peace activist and Vietnamese monk. He was speaking last night at Riverside Church in Manhattan. We’re going to go back to his speech and also play the second half of it tomorrow, as we broadcast from Chinatown and on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, channel 34, for this two-hour War and Peace special, also broadcasting on Free Speech TV, on the DISH Network, channel 9415. You are listening to Democracy Now! in Exile. We’ll be back with Thich Nhat Hanh in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Turkish musician Arto Tunçboyaciyan, who was playing in the nave just before Thich Nhat Hanh took the microphone and gave his address last night at Riverside Church. It was a free event, and thousands of people lined the streets to come and hear the Buddhist monk from Vietnam speak about peace and anger. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! in Exile’s War and Peace Report, as we break the sound barrier with Thich Nhat Hanh.

THICH NHAT HANH: “We do not understand enough of your suffering. Could you tell us? We have not done anything to you. We have not tried to destroy you, to discriminate against you, and we do not understand why you have done that to us. There must be a lot of suffering within yourself. We want to listen to you. We may be able to help you. And together, we can help build peace in the world.” And if you are solid, if you are compassionate when you make this statement, that question, then they will tell you about their suffering.

In Buddhism, we speak of the practice of deep listening, compassionate listening, a wonderful method by which we can restore communication — communication between partners, communication between father and son, communication between mother and daughter, communication between nations. The practice of deep listening should be taken up by parents, by partners, so that they could understand deeply the suffering of the other person. That person might be our wife, our husband, our son and our daughter.

We may have enough goodwill to listen, but many of us have lost our capacity of listening because we do have a lot of anger and violence in us. The other people do not know how to use kind speech. They always blame and judge. And their language is very often sour, bitter. And that kind of speech will always touch off the irritation and the anger in us and prevent us to continue to listen deeply and with compassion. That is why goodwill to listen is not enough. We should need some training in order to be able to listen deeply and with compassion. I think, I believe, I have the conviction, that a father, if he knows how to listen to his son deeply, with compassion, he will open the door of the heart of his son and restore communication.

People in our Congress, in our Senate should also train themselves in the art of deep listening and compassionate listening. There is a lot of suffering within the country also, and many people feel that their suffering is not understood. And that is why, as politicians, members of the parliament, members of the Congress have to train themselves in the art of deep listening — listening to their own people, listening to the suffering within the country, because there is injustice in the country, there is discrimination in the country, there is a lot of anger in the country. And if we can listen to each other, we can also listen to the people outside of the country. Many of them are in a situation of despair. Many suffer because of injustice and discrimination. The amount of violence and despair in them is very huge. And if we’d know how to listen as a nation to their suffering, we can already bring a lot of relief. They feel that they are being understood. That can defuse the bomb already.

I always advise to a couple that when they get angry at each other, they should go back to their breathing, their mindful walking, embrace their anger and look deeply into the nature of their anger. And they may be able to transform that anger in just 15 minutes or a few hours. And if they cannot do that, then they will have to tell the other person that they suffer, they are angry, and they want the other person to know it. They will try to say it in a calm way: “Darling, I suffer, and I want you to know it.” And in Plum Village, where I live and practice, we advise our friends not to keep your anger more than 24 hours without telling the other person, “Darling, I suffer. I want you to know it. I do not know why you have done such a thing to me. I do not know why you have said such a thing to me.” And that’s the first thing he or she should tell the other person. And if they are not calm enough to tell it, they can write it down on a piece of paper.

The second line, the second thing they can say or write down is this: “I am doing my best.” It means I am practicing not to say anything, not to do anything in anger, because I know that, doing so, I will create more suffering. So I am embracing my anger. I am looking deeply into the nature of my anger. You tell the other person that you are practicing holding your anger and understanding your anger, in order to find out whether that anger has come from your own misunderstanding, wrong perception, your lack of mindfulness, your lack of skillfulness.

And the third thing you might like to say to him or to her is that “I need your help.” Usually when we get angry at someone, we want to do the opposite. We want to say, “I don’t need you. I can survive by myself alone.” “I need your help,” it means “I need your practice. I need your deep looking. I need you to help me overcome this anger, because I suffer.” And if I suffer, there is no way that you can be happy, because happiness is not an individual matter. If the other person suffers, there is no way that you can be truly happy alone. So helping the other person to suffer less, to smile, and then you will make you happy also.

The Buddha said, “This is like this, because that is like that. This is because that is.”

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

THICH NHAT HANH: The three sentences I propose is the true language, the language of true love. It will inspire the other person to practice, to look deeply, and together you will bring about understanding and reconciliation. I propose to my friends to write down these three sentences on a piece of paper and slip it into their wallet. And every time they get angry at their partner or their son or their daughter, they practice mindful breathing, they take it out, and they read. It will be a bell, mindfulness, telling them what to do and what not to do.

And I believe that in an international conflict, the same kind of practice is possible also. That is why I propose to America, as a nation, to do the same. You tell the people you believe to be the cause of your suffering that you suffer, that you want them to know it, that you want to know why they have done such a thing to you, and you practice listening deeply with compassion.

And the quality of our being is very important, because that statement, that question, is not a condemnation but a willingness to create true communication. “We are ready to listen to you. We know you must have suffered a lot in order to have done such a thing to us. You may have thought that we are the cause of your suffering. So please tell us that, whether we have tried to destroy you, whether we have tried to discriminate against you, so that we can understand. And we know that when we understand your suffering, we may be able to help you.” That is what we call in Buddhism “loving speech” or “kind language,” that has the purpose of creating communication, restoring communication. And with communication restored, peace will be possible.

This summer, a group of Palestinians came to Plum Village and practiced together with a group of Israelis, a few dozens of them. We sponsored their coming and practicing together. In two weeks, they learned to sit together, walk mindfully together, enjoy the silent meal together, and sit quietly to listen to each other. And the practice taken up was very successful. At the end of the two weeks’ practice, they gave us a wonderful, wonderful report. One lady said, “Thay, this is the first time in my life that I see that peace in the Middle East is possible.” Another young person said, “Thay, when I first arrived in Plum Village, I did not believe that Plum Village is something real, but — because in the situation of my country, you live in constant fear and anger. When your children get into the bus, you are not sure that they can come home. When you go to the market, you are not sure that you will survive going home to your family. And that’s why, when we come to Plum Village, we see people looking at each other with loving kindness, talking with each other kindly, walk peacefully, and doing everything mindfully, we did not believe that it is possible. It did not look real to me.”

But in the peaceful setting of Plum Village, they were able to be together, to live together and to listen to each other. And finally, understanding came. They promised to us that when they went back to the Middle East, they will continue to practice. They will organize a day of practice every week on the local level and a day of practice of mindfulness on the national level. And they plan to come to Plum Village as a bigger group to continue to practice.

I think that if nations like America can organize that kind of setting, where people can come together and spend their time practicing peace, then they will be able to calm down their feelings, their fears, and then peaceful negotiation will be much easier.

AMY GOODMAN: Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, speaking last night at Riverside Church in Manhattan, an evening of peace, “Embracing Anger.” Part 2 of this address, we’ll play tomorrow on Democracy Now! in Exile.

And that does it for today’s program. You can email us at mail@democracynow.org. That’s mail@democracynow.org. Democracy Now! in Exile is produced by Kris Abrams, Brad Simpson, Miranda Kennedy. Anthony Sloan is our music maestro and engineer. Errol Maitland is at WBIX.org, where you can hear Democracy Now!, as well as webactive.com. Special thanks to Chase Pierson, Tony Riddle, Rick Jungers, Hoy No [phon.], Karen Ranucci, DeeDee Halleck, Tom Poole, Lenny Charles, Jon Alpert and Keiko Tsuno of Downtown Community Television, where we’re based. And thank you to Sam Delgado and Charles Krezell, Pacifica stations KPFA and affiliate KFCF in Fresno, as well as all the affiliates. We are Pacifica. You can see Democracy Now! in Exile on channels 34 at Manhattan Neighborhood Network and tomorrow on channel 56, as well as Friday, as well as Free Speech TV, channel 9415 on DISH TV. We are in the historic firehouse of Engine 31 in Chinatown. In exile from the embattled studios of WBAI, from the studios of the banned and the fired, from the studios of our listeners, I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

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